(p. C4) A few years ago, Joe Henrich of the University of British Columbia and his colleagues did a series of experiments in small-scale societies in the Amazon, New Guinea and Africa. They asked people to play the “ultimatum game,” in which a player must decide how much of a windfall he needs to share with another player to prevent the other player from exercising his right to veto the whole deal. The more the small-scale society is enmeshed in modern commerce, the more generous the offers people make. This may shock those who believe in Rousseau’s idea of the “noble savage,” but not those who believe in the virtues of what Montesquieu called “sweet commerce.”
. . .
. . . , though human beings do kind things unrewarded for their neighbors, for reward they also do kind things for strangers: They hand more cash to merchants than they do to beggars.
For the full commentary, see:
MATT RIDLEY. “MIND & MATTER; Which Makes Us Nicer, Team Spirit or Trade?” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 27, 2011): C4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
Page 76 of the Henrich et al article has the key result that Ridley summarizes:
Henrich, Joseph, Robert Boyd, Samuel Bowles, Colin F. Camerer, Ernst Fehr, Herbert Gintis, and Richard McElreath. “In Search of Homo Economicus: Behavioral Experiments in 15 Small-Scale Societies.” American Economic Review 91, no. 2 (May 2001): 73-78.